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Chicken Soup Recipe: Create Your Own

A homemade broth is the base of the soup that holds a beloved place in almost every cuisine.

by Tony Rosenfeld

from Fine Cooking
Issue 114

I’m lucky to have wonderful childhood memories of the chicken soup made by both of my Jewish grandmothers. Once I got old enough to cook for a living and travel a bit, I realized that lots of other people think of chicken soup just as fondly, since it holds a beloved place in almost every cuisine. Its flavors and ingredients might vary, but its standing as the most comforting of meals is universal.

The great thing about chicken soup is that once you learn the basic method, you can flavor it however you like. It starts with an easy, homemade broth—just throw a chicken and some vegetables into a pot and let them simmer. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it, shred the meat, and return it to the soup later. Then, it’s simply a matter of adding your own favorite ingredients, from spices, fresh herbs, and vegetables to noodles, grains, and beans.

You can go traditional with classic chicken noodle, or branch out to Tex-Mex chile-lime chicken soup, or Asian chicken noodle soup with bok choy and shiitake. Or invent your own version. No matter what flavors you choose, your soup will make a delicious one-pot meal for a chilly winter night. And just think—it might even create delicious memories for the soup-eaters in your family, too.

Serves 6 to 8

Make a chicken broth

Homemade broth serves as the base for any style of chicken soup. This broth is made from a whole chicken. If you’re pressed for time, you could substitute store-bought broth and use a rotisserie chicken for the meat, but you won’t get the same depth of flavor.

Using a small sharp knife and your fingers, remove and discard the skin from 1 3-lb. chicken.

Rinse the chicken well and put it in a large (at least 8-quart), heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven. Add enough cold water to submerge the chicken (about 5 quarts). Cover the pot, with the lid slightly ajar. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Cook, occasionally skimming off any foam that accumulates on the surface, until foam no longer rises, about 30 minutes.

Add 2 medium peeled and chopped carrots, 2 medium celery stalks cut into 2-inch pieces, 1 medium yellow onion cut into 1/2-inch wedges, 1-1/2 Tbs. kosher salt, and 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Simmer until the vegetables start to soften and the chicken is completely cooked through, about 20 minutes. Using  tongs and a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a large rimmed baking sheet. Let cool for 10 minutes; meanwhile, continue simmering the broth, partially covered. Using your fingers, pull the meat from the bones and shred it into bite-size pieces; discard any gristle or fat. Set aside the shredded chicken while you finish the broth.

Return the carcass to the broth and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are completely soft and the flavor has intensified, about 30 minutes more. If at any time the water level drops below the solids, add water to cover and return to a simmer.

Remove the carcass from the broth and discard. Strain the broth through a fine sieve set over another pot or a bowl large enough to hold the broth. Gently press on the solids with a large spoon to squeeze out any remaining broth. You will have about 3 quarts. (The broth can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.)

Cook the aromatics

Basic aromatics serve as the flavor foundation for your soup. If you like, you can also add extra aromatics, selecting ones that complement the flavors of the soup you’re making. No matter which you choose, be sure to brown them lightly to deepen their flavor.

Wash and thoroughly dry the broth pot. Heat 1-1/2 Tbs. olive or canola oil in the pot over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add 4 cups of basic aromatics (see options below), extra aromatics, if using, (see options below), and 1/2 Tbs. kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned in places, 4 to 6 minutes.

Choose up to three base aromatics (4 cups total)

  • carrots
    Carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • onions
    Onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • shallots
    Shallot, finely chopped
  • leeks
    Leeks, finely chopped
  • celery
    Celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • fennel bulb
    Fennel, cut into 1/4-inch dice

Choose up to three extra aromatics (optional)

  • red chile peppers
    Fresh chiles (jalapeño, Anaheim, poblano, Thai bird): 1 or 2, cut into thin disks
  • lemongrass
    Lemongrass: 1 or 2 stalks, trimmed, cut into 4-inch pieces, and smashed with the side of a chef’s knife
  • fresh ginger
    Ginger: 2-inch knob, peeled and thinly sliced
  • garlic
    Garlic: 1 or 2 medium cloves, minced
Season and infuse the broth

Add your choice of spices or hardy herbs, if using (see options below), and cook, stirring, until they become fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add 3 quarts of the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are completely tender and the aromatics have infused the broth, 20 to 30 minutes. Fish out and discard any large aromatics or spices.

Choose 1 or 2 spices or hardy herbs (optional)

  • dried bay leaf
    Bay leaves: 1 or 2

  • chili powder
    Chili powder: up to 2 tsp.
  • ground coriander
    Ground coriander: up to 1 tsp.
  • cinnamon stick
    Cinnamon stick: 1, about 3 inches
  • ground cumin
    Ground cumin: up to 2 tsp.
  • dreid chipotle
    Dried chipotle chile: 1
  • thyme
    Chopped fresh thyme: up to 2 tsp.
  • rosemary
    Chopped fresh rosemary: up to 2 tsp.
Add the starches and vegetables

Starches like noodles and potatoes need to be pre-cooked, or they'll absorb too much broth. The exception is canned beans, which of course are already cooked, and can be added to the soup after a thorough rinse.

Cook your choice of starches (see options below) in boiling water until barely tender, (they'll continue to cook in the soup). If using soba, udon, egg or ramen noodles, rinse them after cooking. Stir them in to the soup, along with the reserved shredded chicken and your choice of vegetables (see options below). Simmer, stirring occasionally, until all are tender and the flavors meld, 5 to 10 minutes.

Choose one or two starches

  • diced potatoes
    Diced Potatoes (red or yellow): up to 4 cups
  • ditalini pasta
    Tiny pastas (ditalini, acini de pepe, orzo): up to 4 cups
  • canned beans
    Canned beans (cannellini, black, kidney, pinto, garbanzo): up to 3 cups, rinsed well (up to 3 cups)
  • egg noodles
    Noodles (egg, udon, soba, ramen): up to 5 cups
  • brown rice
    Rice (long-grain white or brown): up to 3 cups
  • barley
    Grains (barley, farro, bulgur, hominy): up to 3 cups

Choose one or two vegetables

  • baby spinach
    Spinach: up to 10 oz., stemmed if large, and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • napa cabbage
    Napa cabbage: cored, cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces (up to 6 cups)
  • escarole
    Escarole: cored, cut into 1-inch pieces (up to 9 cups)
  • swiss chard
    Swiss chard: up to 3/4 lb., stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • bok choy
    Baby bok choy: up to 1/2 lb., thinly sliced
  • mushrooms
    Mushrooms (shiitake, oyster): up to 8 oz., stemmed if necessary and thinly sliced
  • corn kernels
    Fresh or frozen corn kernels: up to 1-1/2 cups (thaw if frozen)
  • peas
    Fresh or frozen peas: up to 1-1/2 cups (thaw if frozen)
  • canned diced tomatoes
    Canned diced tomatoes (drained): up to 1-/12 cups
Finish the soup

It's a good idea to include either vinegar or lemon or lime juice in your choice of finishes—their acid adds brightness and enhances the flavor of any soup.

Stir in your choice of finishes (see options below), adding a little at a time and adjusting the flavor as you go. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Choose up to four finishes; if you choose multiple herbs, use no more than 1/4 cup total

  • lemons
    Lemon juice: up to 4 Tbs.
  • limes
    Lime juice: up to 4 Tbs
  • soy sauce
    Soy sauce: up to 3 Tbs.
  • sesame oil
    Sesame oil: up to 1 Tbs.
  • red wine vinegar
    Red wine vinegar: up to 2 Tbs.
  • white wine vinegar
    White wine vinegar: up to 2 Tbs.
  • sherry vinegar
    Sherry vinegar: up to 2 Tbs.
  • cider vinegar
    Cider vinegar: up to 2 Tbs.
  • rice vinegar
    Rice vinegar: up to 2 Tbs.
  • cream
    Heavy cream: up to 1/2 cup
  • fish sauce
    Fish sauce: up to 2 Tbs.
  • basil
    Chopped fresh basil: up to 1/4 cup
  • cilantro
    Chopped fresh cilantro : up to 1/4 cup
  • tarragon
    Chopped fresh tarragon: up to 1/4 cup
  • flat leaf parsley
    Chopped fresh parsley: up to 1/4 cup
  • dill
    Chopped fresh dill: up to 1/4 cup
  • mint
    Chopped fresh mint: up to 1/4 cup
  • chives
    Thinly sliced fresh chives: up to 1/4 cup
  • hot sauce
    Hot sauce (like Tabasco or Sriracha): up to 2 tsp.
  • sugar
    Sugar or brown sugar: up to 2 Tbs.
Garnish the soup

Ladle into bowls and garnish, if you like, with a small handful of the tortilla strips or 1 Tbs. of the other garnishes (see options below) on each serving.

Chose up to two garnishes (optional)

  • tortilla strips
    Crisp tortilla strips
  • bacon
    Crisp bacon, crumbled
  • scallions
    Scallions, thinly sliced
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
    Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

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